What are children’s elbow injuries?
The elbow joint consists of two bones in the forearm – the radius and ulna – that fit into the ends of the upper arm bone, or humerus, and form a joint similar to a hinge. The elbow is supported and strengthened by tendons, ligaments and muscles. Any of these structures can be injured. Elbow injuries in children include overuse injuries, sprains, strains, dislocations, growth plate fractures and bone fractures.
How are children’s elbow injuries caused?
Overuse injuries occur from excessive repetitive motion of the elbow. Bursitis and tendonosis of the soft tissues, muscles or tendons usually result from overuse. Throwing a baseball too hard or too frequently – 80 or more throws a week – can cause Little League Elbow. Little League Elbow causes pain on the inside of the elbow, because the muscles in the forearm pull on the medial epicondyle, a part of the elbow bone. Strains, or pulled muscles, are caused by over-stretching the muscle in some way. A sprain, or joint injury that pulls or tears ligaments, is usually the result of a fall onto an outstretched arm. Any of the three bones in the arm may be fractured by a fall or by a traumatic blow. A swing from a baseball bat or hockey stick can provide enough force to break a bone in the arm. If the blow lands on or near one of the bone ends, it may injure the area in the bone where growth occurs – the growth plate. An elbow dislocation is a very painful injury that is most likely to result from a bad fall or severe blow that knocks the joint out of position.
Treatment Options for children’s elbow injuries
Non Surgical Treatment
Non-surgical treatments options usually include RICE: rest, ice, compression and elevation. Any activities that stress the elbow – such as pitching a baseball – must be stopped until the injury heals. A child may need a splint or brace to decrease the movement of the elbow so the affected area can be rested. An elastic bandage provides compression to help reduce swelling, while ice also helps with the swelling and relieves pain. Elevation of the elbow will help swelling go down. Physical therapy after the pain goes away can help to strengthen the elbow and prevent future injuries, especially from overuse.
Surgical treatment options depend on the injury. A fracture may need to be surgically repaired, and severe fractures may need metal appliances such as plates or screws to stabilize the broken area until it heals. Tendons or ligaments that have been torn may also need to be surgically repaired.
How is surgery done?
Some elbow surgeries can be done arthroscopically. An arthroscope is an instrument that looks like a long flexible tube; it is attached to a camera and has a light source. The surgeon makes a small incision and inserts the arthroscope into the joint – the camera allows the joint to be seen on a screen in the operating room. The surgeon then uses several small probes or tools to make any repairs. An arthroscopy is less traumatic than open elbow surgery; the incisions are small, blood loss is usually minimal and there is less tissue damage or scarring. In most severe elbow injuries, open surgery is required. Open surgery involves the use of a large incision to allow the elbow joint to be fully exposed.
Recovery time for simple sprains and strains may be as little as two or three weeks. Recovery from surgery takes longer because there is surgical trauma to the joint as well as the trauma from the original injury. Whether or not surgery is involved, it usually takes about six to eight weeks for a fracture to heal, and may take several months. Even after the fracture is healed, it may take additional time for the arm to become fully functional again.
Why See Dr. Knight for children’s elbow injuries?
Dr. Knight has extensive experience with elbow injuries and specializes in the care of the hand and arm. He is board-certified in orthopedics and uses minimally invasive, state-of-the-art technology to promote faster healing and less pain.
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